THE ELDERLY AND HOLIDAY SCAMS

The holidays tend to bring out the best and the worst in our society. People tend to become more generous than usual. Unfortunately, this is what scammers are counting on. Scammers also are searching Facebook and other sites for personal information to sound like they know you.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Christmas is the time that scammers rely on the elderly to be more generous, concocting elaborate schemes and “sad stories” to tug that their heartstrings. One of the most recent scams targeted at seniors is the distress call regarding grandchildren. The caller tells the victims that he/she is their grandchild or calling for their grandchild. He/she tells them he/she or the grandchild is in trouble out of state and needs cash wired right away. The caller also tells the elderly victims not to tell his/her mother or father, according to police.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that dishonest telemarketers take in an estimated $40 billion each year, bilking one in six American consumers — and the AARP claims that about 80% of them are 50 or older. Older adults can protect themselves by:

  • throwing junk mail away;
  • question the caller, usually this will deter him/her from speaking further;
  • when you are on the internet, make sure that you are on a secure site, particularly when making online purchases;
  • make sure that you do not select “remember me”or the “keep me signed in” to prevent anyone from accessing your online banking or shopping accounts;
  • do not give personal information over the phone;
  • contact the Better Business Bureau if you have questions about a potential contractor;
  • visit the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov, the National Consumer League at http://www.nclnet.org and AARP at http://www.aarp.org for the latest financial scams and reports.

As I always mention, please report all incidents to the proper authorities. You can also find information on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website at http://www.ncea.aoa.gov.

If you live in Philadelphia, PA or the surrounding areas or in the State of New Jersey, you may contact the Pile Law Firm at 610-718-6368 for assistance in elder law and estate planning matters. The website is http://www.pilelaw.com.

Please feel free to leave your questions or comments.

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HOME REPAIRS AND THE ELDERLY

My mother recently had an indoor pipe burst in her basement.  She started having problems with the pipe after she had the outside sewer pipe replaced.  I called the plumbing company who replaced the sewer drain pipe, explaining to them that my mother did not have a problem until after having the sewer pipe replaced.

Of course, the company sent someone out to assess the problem.  Instead of trying to find a correlation between the indoor pipe with the recent replacement job, she was given an estimate about how much it would cost to fix the indoor pipe.  He later told her that she had mold in the basement and recommended that she call a mold remediation company.  At this point, my mother was fearful and stressed out. As directed, she called the mold remediation company and someone came out and surveyed the basement.  She was later told that the mold damage was severe and proceeded to give an estimate of the job.  This job would cost $4,000.00.  She called me and was frazzled. I called the plumbing company back and asked why was my mother given an estimate for repairs when it was possible that the company was at fault. I was told that I would receive a return call. I never did.

In the meantime, I questioned my mother about the mold. She said that she was told by the mold remediation company that she could use the bathroom in the basement and she should not stay in the basement too long. A red flag went up! One would presume that if the mold was such a major health hazard, she would have been instructed to stay out of the basement.  I later discovered that the mold issue was minimum and she should have someone spray a solution of bleach and water on the areas affected and that would kill the mold.  This was confirmed by my nephew, a licensed plumber. On that same visit, she was told that she needed to replace the drywall in her dining room because it was leaking from cracks outside of her home. Later, the director from our county’s housing development office came out. After assessing the drywall issue, he told us that all that was needed was a gutter cleaning.

When a homeowner is older and lacks knowledge of home repairs, it makes him/her a target for home repair scams.

It is estimated that more than $100 billion will be spent on home remodeling and repair this year. According to the Better Business Bureau, home remodeling contractors rank third in generating the most consumer complaints.

Older homeowners are popular targets of fraudulent home repair financing schemes as well because they tend to live in older homes that need repair and have access to the equity in their homes. Older homeowners are more likely to be vulnerable to scare tactics and the need for an immediate resolution of the problem.

It is important to note that many seniors are not familiar with the current market value of materials and labor, making them much more likely to easily accept an over-inflated bid for repair work. If a contractor knows that the homeowner previously paid on the spot, they will attempt to exploit the homeowner and also tell their subcontractors about the homeowner. In my mother’s case, the first question the plumber asked was, “Don’t you have account with us?”

According to elder-law.laws.com, here are some helpful safety tips:

  • Research online – Check out if there have been negative reviews about the company or individual. Also, go to the Better Business Bureau website to see if any complaints have been registered.
  • Get more than one estimate – Costs can vary dramatically when it comes to repair jobs.Have three people come out to give you estimates. If they’re not willing to give you a free estimate don’t use them.  Make sure you get the estimates in writing.
  • Sign a contract – Agree on the time it will take to complete, what is expected and included and the potential overages. Be sure that this covers the entire job and that there are no hidden charges.  Also, determine who will be in your home.Is it the person you’re dealing with or do they subcontract out to someone else?
  • Never pay 100% up front – If the job is done poorly or not completed, you’ll have a hard time getting your money back. Agree on a percentage up front and the remainder when you’re satisfied with the job.
  • Don’t leave them in your home alone – If you are a senior, be sure to let a neighbor or friend know that workers will be in your home. Check in on them sporadically to make sure they are actually working and not taking an extended coffee break or have wandered into some other area of your home. Never provide security codes to your home.
  • Keep your pride in check! – Have a loved one or a friend present during the work assessment.

As I mentioned before, whenever there is an economic downturn, the elderly are sure to be targeted.  Please report any incidents of elder abuse to your local authorities.  The website for the National Center for Elder Abuse is www.ncea.aoa.gov.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions.